moved that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the occasion to address the House today on the citizen voting act.
The citizen voting act has three principal objectives. The first is to help prevent non-citizens from voting in federal elections. The second is to require voters living abroad to provide proof of identity, past residence, and citizenship. The third is to create one set of rules for all Canadians voting from outside the country.
To start with the background that led us to this legislation, I would bring members' attention to the Ontario Superior Court ruling in Frank et al. v. Attorney General of Canada. In this case, the court struck down the law that had been in place preventing citizens from voting if they had been out of the country for more than five consecutive years or have no intention of returning. Estimates show that the reading could lead to 1.4 million new eligible voters and an outdated system to administer their votes.
I will now work through some of the individual problems that exist within the status quo and how the bill seeks to address them one by one.
The first problem is that an estimated 40,000 non-citizens are on the voters list. Elections Canada has brought this number to my attention. It has indicated that these lists are not perfect, and that as a result, names of people who have interactions with various levels of governments get into the overall system and inadvertently end up on the list of electors. These people are sent voter information cards that indicate where they can go and vote, although they are not eligible to do so.
The problem is that there will be some who go and vote, even though they are not citizens, because they think that they are allowed. If they get a voter information card that says they should show up at the elementary school around the corner to cast their ballot, logically they would think that they, as permanent residents, are allowed to do that. There will be people among that 40,000 who will accidentally break the law.
There will also be some who might deliberately break the law. With their names being on the voters list, they do not even have to sign oaths asserting that they are a citizens when they go to cast their ballots. It is only those who are not on the voters list who have take an oath of citizenship when they vote.
The solution in the citizen voting act would authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the names, genders, birthdates, and addresses of non-citizens who are in Canada so that Elections Canada can cross-reference and remove them from the National Register of Electors. This would be a very difficult and tedious undertaking, I am afraid, but it is a worthwhile one. If it can reduce that number of 40,000 non-citizens to a smaller number, or perhaps eliminate it altogether, we can celebrate that as an improvement in the accuracy of the voters list and the fairness of our elections.
The next problem is that under the current law, Canadians voting abroad do not need to have any proven link to the riding in which their vote is counted. At present, if a person is living in London, England, or Washington, D.C., for example, and wants to vote in Canada, that person can register to vote in pretty much any constituency with which they feel that they have a connection, and that connection will not be verified by Elections Canada. Everyone else has to vote in the riding in which they reside, because the residential link is a critical part of our constituency-based system, but there is a double standard that allows some to pick their riding and do riding shopping, while others have to vote where they live or where they have a residential connection.
The solution is to bring about the same rules for everybody. The way we would do that is by requiring proof of past residence.
Obviously someone living abroad most likely would not have a current residence in Canada, so I think it would be reasonable to ask them to cast their ballot for the constituency in which they last lived before they left the country. The citizen voting act would do that. The bill would require that they prove their identity and their most recent Canadian address, using the same documentation as do voters who live in Canada under the new rules that came in through the Fair Elections Act.
The options would be a photo ID containing a prior address, or any two of the 39 pieces of ID approved by the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada. If none of the documentation has their address on it, the voters would be able to rely on someone who would sign an attestation that in fact they did reside in the riding in which they want their vote counted, and that attestation would quality as a proof of past residency.
These rules might seem familiar. That is because they are the same ones that the Fair Elections Act brought in. Under that bill, we require people to show ID when they vote, but if that ID does not have an address on it, then they can rely on someone to sign an attestation or co-signing an oath that they in fact do reside in the riding in which they want to vote. We are simply taking that set of rules that we apply within Canada and applying it outside of Canada.
Some might ask about expired documents. If someone has been living abroad for 10 or 15 years, obviously their documents would not be up to date. We have specifically stated in the bill that expired documents are acceptable forms of ID, so if somebody has an old drivers licence that is past the expiration date, it would still qualify as proof of previous Canadian residency and render eligible that voter in the riding where he or she is attempting to cast a ballot.
The next problem is that there is a double standard for voting abroad.
There are two types of voters who cast ballots from abroad. There are those who are resident in Canada but are on vacation or working abroad during the election. Examples are the snowbirds who go down to Florida or California during the winter. They have to vote by something called a special ballot. When they vote, they actually have to apply for the ballot at each election. They have to provide ID to show where they reside in Canada, and then they get a ballot for the riding that they come from. They send that ballot back in the mail, and it is counted in the correct constituency.
By contrast, those who are long-term non-residents, those people who live outside of Canada, do not have any of those obligations. They merely apply to be on the voters list once, and then into perpetuity the ballot arrives in their mailbox as soon as the election is called. This causes a lot of problems.
One problem is that someone could easily have moved. Someone resident in Mexico City might move to another part of the world, but their ballot would still come from Elections Canada to the Mexico City mailbox of someone who has no connection to Canada and should not be in possession of a Canadian ballot. As a result, into perpetuity we would obviously have ballots going to the wrong people, and there is no way of verifying that the address is accurate in that kind of circumstance. The requirement to apply for a ballot for each election is an organic way to keep the list of those Canadians who are voting abroad up to date.
Next we move to the issue of proof of citizenship. The citizen voting acting would require in law that everyone voting outside Canada provide proof of citizenship. This requirement would not apply to Canadian Forces members, but it would apply to everyone else.
Finally, the citizen voting act would apply some audit procedures to Elections Canada to make sure that all of these rules are followed. That process was established in the Fair Elections Act for voting when it occurs within the country. We are simply applying it to all of those who vote from outside of the country.
How does this proposed system compare to other countries around the world? Many like-minded democracies place restrictions on voting by non-residents with limited exceptions for citizens serving abroad.
For example, in the U.K., non-residents can only vote if they have been out of the country for less than 15 years. In Ireland, non-residents cannot vote. If they do not live in Ireland, they do not vote in Ireland. In Australia, non-residents can only vote if they have lived abroad for less than six years and intend to return to resume residence in the country within six years. They must provide either their Australian drivers licence number or their Australian passport number or have a person who is on the federal electoral list confirm their identity—not their address—by signing the application form. In New Zealand, non-resident citizens can vote only if they have been abroad for less than three years. In Germany, non-residents can only vote if they have been abroad for less than 25 years. They also must have lived in Germany for three consecutive months following their 14th birthday.
To avoid getting into all of the details, members can surmise from these examples that among our peer group, Canada, which currently allows Canadians living abroad to vote without restriction, has basically one of the most generous systems of enfranchisement for citizens abroad.
This legislation would not change that, but it would improve the integrity of the system. It would ensure that only citizens vote, that their vote is only counted in the riding from which they come, and that they only vote once. That is basic to the integrity of our electoral system, and the bill would bring the rules for Canadians abroad in line with the rules we have now established for those voting here at home.
That is in essence the proposal we bring forward to the House. I thank the House for this opportunity to address the chamber.